Tag Archives: lisicki

A look at women’s tennis and the Wimbledon ladies’ semi-finals

29 Jun

Tennis is perhaps the sole sport in which the women are as highly rated as the men. On-court, equal pay has been a feature for several years. Off-court, Maria Sharapova, speculated to be the highest earning sportswoman in the world, out earns most professional men’s tennis players, with only a select few such as the Federer’s and Nadal’s of the world, ranking ahead of her in the money stakes.

In recent years and amid a lack of dominant players, the women’s game has come under great scrutiny for its revolving door of world number ones and grand slam champions. Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters have all held the top ranking over the past few years. Of the six, only three have won major titles with Clijsters and Williams being multiple grand slam winners. Ivanovic, who won the French Open title in 2009 in addition to attaining the ranking, has since suffered a major downturn in her career and is now ranked outside of the top 10. Safina and Jankovic have also slumped since being number one, with the only player ranked number one and not holding a grand slam title yet to drop out of the top 10 being the current number one, Caroline Wozniacki.

Tough questions

Wozniacki has been ranked number one for a total of 39 weeks which for interests’ sake is more weeks than Clijsters, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have managed to hold the ranking. All this while she is yet to win a grand slam title while the other three have won several. The young Dane is continually asked about the credibility of her reign at the top of the rankings; her early losses at the French Open and Wimbledon have undoubtedly not helped the cause. It is however an unavoidable situation.

The WTA (The governing body of women’s tennis.) compiles the rankings. While the rankings rate the grand slam tournaments as those of greatest importance, and rightly so, it also includes the performances of players at several other tournaments of various levels. Obviously in order to motivate players to participate in tournaments on tour all year – and to not just turn up for grand slams, as the Williams’ sisters and even Clijsters have been guilty of in recent years – it is imperative the WTA hands out ranking points for tournaments below the grand slam level. The continued success of the sport depends on television rights and fans coming out to watch the top women in the world battle it out for titles in every city in the world, not just those lucky enough to play host to one of the majors. As a result the ranking system really can’t be altered to afford the grand slam winners the top ranking too. It must go to the player who most consistently plays the best tennis on tour. Right now, the distinction is Caroline Wozniacki’s; she is therefore the rightful number one player in the world.

Legacy and/or ambassador

Unless she really starts winning the Polish-born Dane is hardly likely to be remembered in the same light as a Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis or countless other dual number ones and grand slam titlists. It seems a tad unfair to expect her to play as few tournaments as the Williams’ and Clijsters, just to grant them an equal opportunity to be number one. While the reasons for their absence from the tour have been valid, it has definitely been detrimental to the sport.

In the interim it has been players like Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Jankovic, Vera Zvonareva, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka that have carried the sport. They have served as ambassadors for the game when their sometimes more illustrious competitors have only showed up for the majors. It is these players that ought to be given credit for the continued success of women’s tennis as a full time career. Sure, winning a grand slam makes for great headlines, but hosting and broadcasting tournaments is where the money comes from – and we all know money makes the world go round. The women’s draw at Wimbledon has consisted of some stellar tennis.

Women’s tennis has become increasingly less appealing with low level of play and numerous upsets becoming the norm. Despite not lacking in upsets, the play of the eventual quarter-and semi-finalists at Wimbledon this year has often overshadowed the men’s tournament with its brilliance. The competitive nature of the encounters between the women has begun to capture the audience’s attention, and could make women’s tennis impressive again.

Semi-Final 1: Maria Sharapova vs. Sabine Lisicki

The draw has been rewarding to players performing at an incredibly high level, as opposed to those who don’t completely suck. Six of the eight quarter-finalists played great tennis in the round of eight, with Dominika Cibulkova’s level dropping off against Sharapova after she beat Julia Goerges and Wozniacki in her two previous matches in stunning display. Sharapova was in devastating form, leading to her attaining favourite status to win the tournament. She plays Sabine Lisicki in the semis after she was the victor over Marion Bartoli, who defeated the defending champion in the fourth round, in the quarter-finals. Lisicki is the first German to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon since Graf.

Both players have excellent grass court pedigree with titles on the surface to the credit of both ladies. Sharapova’s 2004 Wimbledon titles is of course the most prolific of these, but Lisicki’s current 10-match winning streak on the surface is an indicator of how dangerous she could be to Sharapova’s favourite status. Both ladies thoroughly deserve their spots in the semi-finals. The match is likely to be decided by Sharapova’s service. Her ability to land a high percentage of first serves ought to guarantee her progress to the finals at Wimbledon for the first time since her winning run in 2004. If her first serve is less than excellent, Lisicki will look to step in on the second serve and put Sharapova under pressure on her service games. This tactic combined with the German’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Sharapova in the pace of hitting, could see the younger woman walking away with the win.

The winner: Sharapova in three.

Semi-Final 2: Victoria Azarenka vs. Petra Kvitova

Kvitova is back in the semis after her breakthrough performance at Wimbledon last year. Her movement through the draw has gone largely unnoticed with the mainstream press paying her little attention. Tennis insiders and dedicated fans have been tracking her closely with her being tagged a dark horse to win the title prior to the tournament starting. As such, her success at Wimbledon is unlikely to come as too big a surprise. She has been solid in her performances thus far, dropping a set for the first time against the woman who expelled Venus Williams from the draw, Tsvetana Pironkova. Kvitova nevertheless held her nerve to dump hard-hitting Pironkova from the draw, despite her excellent play in periods of their quarter-final match.

Her semi-final opponent is a fellow Eastern-European, Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka finally broke her quarter-final hoodoo by reaching the semi-finals at a grand slam for the first time in five quarter-final appearances. She achieved this by completely overpowering her opponent, Tamira Paszek. It was unfortunate to note that the questions around Azarenka’s mental strength are still valid – she struggled quite a bit to serve out the first set. She is unlikely to get as many opportunities against her Czech opponent in the semis. If she fails to take them she will be unable to reach her first major final at Wimbledon in 2011. Since both ladies have been hitting the ball in incredible fashion, the mental resolve of Azarenka could very well prove to be the deciding factor in the match. If the match goes to a third set, Kvitova ought to be superior.

The winner: Azarenka in straights.

The women’s tennis at this tournament has been of an incredible standard – all four semi-finalists have been hitting the ball in fantastic fashion and clearly deserve to be contesting a Wimbledon semi-final. Hopefully the final three matches of the tournament will be competitive encounters of high quality and entertainment value. Share your picks by commenting below.

Finally I include a clip of an amazing around the post winner hit by Victoria Azarenka in her match against Tamira Paszek.


Top 10: The French Open So Far

26 May

So the French Open has been ongoing for a few days now and by now we know who is in form, who isn’t and who’s feeling the pressure (Wozniacki much?); it’s nearing that moment where the nervous energy of the first few days of a grand slam ceases to exist, and the favourites start to play at their fluent best. Several notable happenings have been observed at the French Open thus far. Not quite making the top 10, but worthy of at least a mention is Vera Zvonareva’s almost loss to Sabine Lisicki, and Lisicki’s subsequent meltdown, which included her being carried off court on a stretcher presumably due to cramping. The losses suffered by sixth seed Tomas Berdych, and Ana Ivanovic, the 20th seed and  former winner, definitely warrant a mention. Both lost to players not expected to proceed beyond the first round, in the shape of world number 140, Robert Stephane and virtual unknown Johanna Larsson, respectively. And then the last French Open factoid to make it into this article before we start with the official list, is that tennis, oops make that #tennis is huge on twitter. Not only are plenty of big players using the platform to communicate directly with their fans, the fans are also using it to make their voices heard loud and clear; #frenchopen and #rolandgarros have been trending topics in various countries over the past few days.

At number ten we have the success being experienced by the players favouring the clay surface. David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Jurgen Melzer and even Albert Montanes, along with their female counterparts in the form of Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova have made it through the draw with relative ease thus far. Watch out for a few of these players to put in a semi final run. Defending finalists, Stosur and Schiavone, should rightfully of course, be considered title contenders.

Sam Stosur easily wins her 2nd round match.
The dresses and other fashion statements of the French Open rank at number nine. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been playing with black stripes underneath her eyes, not unlike the ones that might be seen on the snarling faces of NFL players. As always her press conferences have centred on her attire and appearance more than anything else, she has even been attributed the moniker Lady Gaga of tennis. To her credit, she draws a lot of attention which the game would not generally get and she is also now the top ranked US women’s players. In addition to Mattek-Sands’ eccentricities, the fashion contest which emerges at every grand slam, has for my money been won by Sharapova. Her Eiffel Tower inspired dress, in an understated canary yellow shade is rounded off by a set of Tiffany earrings with which no other player can compete. Honorable mentions do however go to Wozniacki for her ruffled dress and Ivanovic for her hot pink number.

Mattek-Sands and her black stripes.

Enough of the fluff which surrounds tennis, at number eight we have the comebacks happening at Roland Garros. While we missed out on Amelie Mauresmo pairing with Michael Llodra in the mixed due to her not being part of the anti-doping programs in tennis for the past few years, and as a result not being allowed to enter, we still got to see Kim Clijsters (sometimes horrendous) but ultimately satisfying return to the game after months out due to a wedding reception injury. In addition, 2004 winner, Anastasia Myskina, has made a return to the game, in the form of coach to the lately struggling Kuznetsova.

Ranking number seven on my list of moments to remember is the 2nd round match between Wozniacki and Aleksandra Wozniak. Not only did the world number one struggle quite a bit in the second set, but she also proceeded to make a 3 minute fuss about a line call she disagreed with. Maybe a little bit of gamesmanship? The crowd did not appreciate her insistence, and there were some jeers to be heard when she left the court after winning the match five points later. To further add fuel to the fire, her father and coach, stormed out of the stadium and mentioned to journalists the fact that Wozniacki did not stick to the tactics set out for the match. He seemed quite unhappy with his 20-year old daughter. All-in-all this match seemed to indicate that Wozniacki is feeling the pressure of being number one in the world (and no grand slam title as of yet.) This match by Wozniacki and Clijsters’ erratic play (As I write this, the Rus-Clijsters match has gone into a third set) seems to make Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka the favourites for the title at this point.

Caro Wozniacki unhappy about a line call.

Several players that qualify the French Open as their home tournament, have made it past the first few round of tennis; the French supporters have come out  in hordes, and with soccer chants to boot. In addition, the organisers have scheduled the matches in such a fashion that the matches of the top French players have often been the most high-profile of their time slots, thereby ensuring the French players receive TV coverage all over the world. Looking after their own is an attribute the French certainly deserve, and as a result the French rank sixth on this list.

The Babolat tennis balls being used for the first time at Roland Garros make the list. They are apparently faster, harder and clearly advantage the hard-hitting players in the game. Criticism of the decision to change the balls have been widely received from players. Roger Federer has made it clear that it is not so much these balls specifically, but rather the fact that all the tournaments in the lead-up to the French use different one’s – the Dunlop balls previously in use at Roland Garros, meaning a transition is required. This is not ideally suited to the players of course. The attention that the tennis balls, and the knock which Babolat have taken as a result, qualifies for this list in fifth position.

Roger Federer with the new Babolat balls.

The manner in which Federer and Novak Djokovic have won their matches at the French thus far, leads to the pair making the list at number four. Both have been incredibly efficient and have sent a clear message that the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, might be dethroned for the 2nd time in three years at RG. Djokovic with his 40+ match winning streak is of course expected to perform in the manner that he has, it is the play of Federer that has surprised the many who have written of the 16-time grand slam winner.

Making my list at number three is the appearance of Virginie Razzano in the tournament so soon after she suffered such an intense personal loss. I was quite unsure about including this on my list, but eventually decided that the bravery and courage shown by Razzano by playing to honour of her deceased fiance, deserves recognition on every possible platform. As such I make mention of her emotion heavy first round loss to Jarmila Gadjosova.

At number two is the success of the 10 top ranked women in tennis. Not a single upset among the  lot of them yet! It probably shouldn’t rank so highly on the list, but with the inconsistency of the women’s game, any validation of the women’s game and the WTA rankings has to be considered invaluable. (Update: I spoke far too soon; Kim Clijsters has just lost her match to Arantxa Rus, nevertheless 9 out of 10 isn’t too bad.)

At number one we have Oprah, ending her show after 25 years, what a run! Yeah, I’m kidding. The match between Nadal and John Isner is my top moment of the last few days of tennis. The match showed the value of being able to hold serve – Isner being able to take Nadal to 6-6 in two sets, lead to him being able to take those sets in tie breakers. It also showed that Isner should be higher ranked, and should perhaps be working a little harder at winning matches against players ranked lower than him, and not only coming to play in high-profile matches; thereby putting himself in a position where he doesn’t have to play Nadal in the first round at a major. Furthermore, this match indicates that Nadal is not in as good form as he usually is before the French Open. He truly struggled to pass Isner consistently, and definitely did not get as many balls back as he did circa 2008 at RG. If Djokovic manages to beat Juan Martin del Potro in convincing manner, I might even change my pick for the title from Nadal to Djokovic.

World number 1 and defending champion, Rafael Nadal, celebrates upon reaching the 2nd round at Roland Garros.


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